Women's Health

Talking About Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Talking About Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Key Takeaways

  • Social support is important for cancer treatment, and sharing is the way to establish it.
  • Be prepared for other people's reactions, which can either be positive or negative. 
  • You may feel sorry about the burden of cancer to your family and friends, but understand that the condition is not your fault. 

Hearing the news that you have breast cancer is an overwhelming and a life-changing moment, and breaking the news is just as hard too. Almost all patients, upon first hearing the diagnosis, become so overwhelmed that they feel some sort of "numbed" and cannot decide what to do next. It is often very difficult for patients to divulge this information for various reasons.

The statistics present a sad situation. Estimates show that about 1 in every 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Although the same estimates show that the trend is decreasing, it still shows that a significant number of women is at risk.

Some may choose not to share the information about their condition to anyone and only choosing to divulge it until it is very late. There are some reasons for this. Some don't want to share the big emotional burden of cancer. Others do not want the unnecessary attention or hate the hassle of entertaining repeated questions while struggling from cancer. Most people simply choose to fight the disease on their own and not bother others. These reasons sound noble, but coping cancer alone is not the right way to do it.

Another reason is facing the fear of stigma. It is very sad that patients still have to face the possibility of being shunned by others for having a condition they do not have any control with. In this problem, there is something wrong in the community itself.

Cancer affects not only the patient, but also the family as well. Therefore, hiding the diagnosis is impossible. Treatment will require regular checkups, and you may experience symptoms and side effects of the treatment. Your family and friends will know about it at some point.

Reasons why you should share

Despite concerns, there are still good reasons to talk to your family about the cancer diagnosis. These reasons can help you muster the strength to talk to your family. The main and ultimate reason for doing so is to gain support and understanding. Social support is important for cancer treatment, and sharing is the way to establish it.

Another reason is to give them time to prepare for cancer treatment. For example, in case you have small children, telling the cancer diagnosis to family members makes way for preparations, such as childcare or assuming work tasks when you are having treatment.

These are important reasons why talking to the family about cancer is needed. It is wrong to think that talking it over with family and friends means passing the burden to them. They will know about it anyway. It will affect them no matter what.

Thoughts to ponder when telling them about breast cancer

Now we proceed on revealing your breast cancer diagnosis to your family. Honestly, there is no step-by-step procedure or the right or wrong way to do it because each individual's situation is different. Here are some important points to consider:

1) Assess your emotions.

Are you ready to tell your diagnosis to them right now? Or, do you want to internalize first and wait for a few days? You may want to consider your feelings or emotional status first--it is okay if you feel you are not yet ready to tell it to somebody. The present situation is not easy, so you may want to wait until your emotions settle down before talking to your family.

However, if you think that you will feel better when you tell it to your family, then go ahead. You should be able to decide freely. Do not feel pressured to tell it to somebody, especially to those you are not comfortable with.

2) You do not have an obligation tell it to everybody.

It might sound obvious, but you should be able to tell your diagnosis to trusted family members and friends. They are the ones who will not judge you, and they are also the ones that will give positive support.

Some patients needlessly worry that everyone should know their condition. You can freely choose not to tell it to your nasty neighbor or distant co-workers. If they still managed to hear the news through some other means, they should understand if they have the manners.

3) If you have small children, it may be better if you told them the real situation.

Many parents are reluctant to tell their children about their condition, as they may be too young to understand the situation. Since they will also be affected, telling the news to your children is the best course. Note that very young children have a basic understanding of sickness. It is perfectly okay to tell them that something is not okay.

In a basic sense, the children have to know, so explain it to them in plain words. Children can easily sense if something is not right, especially when you are overwhelmed with emotions having cancer treatment or struggling from the side effects. If they do not understand what is happening, they may end up blaming themselves for the situation.

What to expect when you share the news?

Be prepared for other people's reactions, which can either be positive or negative. It is normal that your friends and family will experience the same feelings you are having like shock, sadness, anxiety, or even anger. You may feel sorry about the burden of cancer to your family and friends, but understand that the condition is not your fault.

Oftentimes, your family and friends do not know what to say. This is especially true to friends, co-workers, and family members, as they will be very unsure on what to do and how to react. Some people in your life may shun themselves or disappear, not because of stigma, but because they are overwhelmed with their own sadness or anxiety that could come from their own experiences with cancer.

If they offer to give help, you can consider asking specific requests like riding to the doctor, helping with the housework, or taking care of the children when you are having treatment.

How to tell it to them?

The thought of sharing a cancer diagnosis often proves a daunting, overwhelming, and a nerve-wracking task. As earlier mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to share a cancer diagnosis to your family. If you have a spouse, he or she should be the first to know, and your partner has to know it straightforwardly. The same thing applies to your healthy parents, close friends, adult-age children, and other family members. They will be shocked, but they will want all the details. Tell them how you really feel.

However, the situation would be different if you have old and frail parents, who have other medical problems. In such case, you can still tell them with emphasis on the treatment and prognosis. Before talking to them, consider how your treatment will affect their lives since old people do not want unfamiliar or sudden changes to daily routine.

On small children, note that they have already developed a basic understanding of illness as young as 4 years old. The important thing to children is the reassurance of love (and the situation is not their fault), ongoing attention, and they will not be left alone. It is also important not to use euphemisms to explain what is happening, which may cause more confusion and anxiety.

Receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness like breast cancer is very overwhelming. You may experience an inability to decide or think as you go through seemingly unending sadness, anxiety, and fear for the future. Talking it over with your family seems like another nerve-wracking affair, so we hope that this article will help you make good decisions and build up support in this crisis.